As I mentioned in my Toronto Sun column here, I don’t believe Sergio Garcia made his infamous “fried chicken” comment about Tiger Woods with any intent to be offensive, but that doesn’t excuse him for perpetuating one of the oldest stereotypes in the books.
Since then, a variety of potential punishments have been volleyed about in the media, although there has been no response to those suggestions by either the PGA or European Tours and I’m not sure that any of them would actually deal with the bigger problem.
Such retaliation is putting a band-aid on a gaping wound. It’s not as if this hasn’t happened before in golf.
Similar quotes by Fuzzy Zoeller about Woods in 1997 was brought up countless times in all of the Garcia controversy and let’s not forget what Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman said in jest about “lynching” Woods in 2008.
Such comments are more thoughtless than intentional, but they do hit home.
I’ve listened to Charlie Sifford, the World Golf Hall of Fame member and an African-American pioneer in golf, about his experiences.
Renee Powell, who carries on her dad William’s legacy after his efforts to bring equality to America’s golf courses, also describes through experience her reaction to such comments.
Those feeling can’t simply be blown off. In the Garcia case, Tiger was gracious enough to tweet that he felt Sergio had “real regret” about the comment, adding that it was time to move on and talk golf, but it isn’t.
It’s time to tackle the problem. The Garcia comment will fade into time, only to be brought up the next time it happens down the road.
Professional athletes in general spend their time honing their skills and if they make it to the top of their respective games, they’re suddenly in front of cameras, in press conferences and in high profile situations where something they say can result in the backlash Garcia received.
That’s not to excuse Garcia’s comment, but to point out that the tours need sensitivity training for the players who represent them that can be done during orientation.
If the players want to simply blow off what they hear, they also need to be reminded, not only about the backlash they’ll get, but what can they can expect if the tour makes official fines and suspensions in such incidents.
It’s also an idea that facilities at the grassroots of Canadian golf may want to consider considering the changing and diverse society around us. The hurt that can come from a comment isn’t limited to staff or members of African descent, but other ethnic groups, as well.
Former LPGA Tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens stepped in it a few years ago when a proposed policy would suspend players who could not efficiently speak English, a move that was seen as directly targeting Asian-born players. After considerable pressure, the tour backed off.
The tour was correct in saying that learning English would be to the players’ benefit considering the number of events that are played in North America, but the tyrannical way it handled it was the issue and it came across as singling out one particular ethnic group.
The matter will become more complex as society continues to change and people of various cultures arrive in Canada, each with its own identity.
To understand what offends each group may be difficult to do, but quite often, such incident can be avoided through awareness, common sense and sensitivity.
Like the Garcia incident, the intent to be racist may not be there, but an operation will want to avoid any such incident, whenever possible.
What you think is innocent may not be seen as such by somebody else and that goes beyond race to people with disabilities, for example, and there are no easy solutions.
The first step, however, is awareness.